Fragments of Horror is a special release for many, marking the return of manga artist and writer Junji Ito to the horror genre. Since his debut in 1987, Ito has been a major influence on Japanese horror, and was even tied to the cancelled Silent Hills project along with Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro.
Fragment of Horror collects together eight short stories, many of which feature Ito’s distinctive grotesque imagery, body horror, and Lovecraftian inspired weird horror. Some are more just creepy than fantastical and grotesque, and one is almost kind of sweet and touching in a haunting way (“Gentle Goodbye”).
In the “Afterword”, Ito expresses some reservations over the first story in the collection, “Futon” – his first story after his eight year gap from horror. It’s about a guy who refuses to leave his futon because he’s scared of the outside world. It gets weird. In a way, Ito is right. While the story is pretty good, it’s not exactly a classic. It’s good, but does lack a certain spark that Ito’s work usually has. Perhaps due to its short length, the ideas feel just a bit underdeveloped. It’s short enough, though, to provide a quick refresher for both Ito and the reader, and it sets the tone for what’s to follow, all of which pretty much surpasses the first story.
Ito takes a seemingly ordinary aspect of life and twists it into something that feels off, wrong, and disturbing.
A common thread with most of the stories of Fragments of Horror is the way Ito takes a seemingly ordinary aspect of life and twists it into something that feels off, wrong, and disturbing. As someone whose neck feels irritated with some shirt collars, “Tomio – Red Turtleneck” was pretty terrifying. From the second story, “Wooden Spirit”, it also becomes clear that Ito’s horror is often entwined with the erotic. At one point a lady makes love to a house.
Bizarre, horrible, and yet often quite beautiful.
Simple human fears, from uncomfortable sweaters to being dissected alive, mix together with natural human urges, most often the erotic, to create a sequence of horror stories that feel raw and true. Disturbing not only because of the weird and larger forces that many of the characters couldn’t possibly hope to go against, but also because they are pretty much all grounded in something most readers will find believable — connecting the horror to us directly. The bizarre, horrible, and yet often quite beautiful imagery combines with these ideas to imprint them on the reader’s mind.
The first Ito short story I ever read was “The Enigma of Amigara Fault”, released around 2001 as a Bonus Chapter of his longer form Gyo. The ideas and imagery of that horrible story remained with me for a long time, at once horrifying and also thought provoking. So too do the images and concepts of Fragments of Horror stick with me. I can draw every single one of them to mind without even looking back over the book, even the supposedly “weaker” ones — the images mixing with the ideas in a horrible and wonderful swirl in my head, making me like a slightly more delighted version of Tomio as he appears on the front cover.